10 Exotic Places To Eat, Shop, And Explore In Los Angeles' Little India

Indian Spices | © Joe mon bkk/Wikicommons
Indian Spices | © Joe mon bkk/Wikicommons

Escape the doldrums and get away to Little India – known as the International Cultural District. It is located in Artesia on the fringes of southern Los Angeles County, about 20 minutes from Disneyland. Curious explorers who venture down Little India’s Pioneer Boulevard, between 183rd Street and South Street, can sample savory dishes and treats, shop for unique items, and admire the entrepreneurial enterprises, cultural traditions, and spiritual paths of South Asian immigrant families.

Saffron Spot

Nestled inside the India Village – which looks like two small conjoined coliseums – is an irresistible over-the-counter ice cream shop. Saffron Spot was opened by Smita Vasant, the president and founder of Neemo Enterprises. She figured out how to amalgamate Eastern flavors, essences, and textures into a creamy scoop of sheer delight. So, for those who are tired of the same old flavors, be daring! Try some flavors that have never existed in the West before: saffron (flower threads), rose, cashew, cardamom, lychee, mango, khulfi (creamy Indian sweet) with pistachio and almonds, chikoo (tropical fruit), or rajbhog (orange cheese ball).

Saffron Spot, 18744 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA, USA, +1 562 809 4554

Jay Bharat Restaurant

At this ‘pioneering’ restaurant on Pioneer Boulevard – established in 1985 – the menu of Jay Bharat includes enticing main dishes such as dhosas (crepes) and parathas (flatbreads) that can be stuffed or served with potatoes, vegetables, spices, chutney, or masala. Yogesh Morari, a Hindu vegetarian and the son of a Gujarati immigrant, recounts how his parents emigrated from India and opened this restaurant in the 1980s. At that time in Artesia, there were only two or three Indian shops, with one bakery and a pharmacy. Now, the family has a full line of popular catering traditions, yet they are still using recipes from their rural village of Kothambi. The restaurant’s name is noteworthy: ‘Jay,’ a special family member, and ‘Bharat,’ meaning India in Sanskrit.

Jay Bharat, 18701 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA, USA, +1 562 924 3310

Standard Sweets and Spices

Sit in a cushioned booth and sample sweets such as jelebis (deep-fried batter soaked in sugar) or the heavenly rasmalai dessert – cheese balls cooked in syrup and dunked in cream with cardamom and pistachios. Barfi is made of ingredients such as condensed milk, sugar, cashews, peanuts, pistachios, or almonds. According to Yogesh Morari, all the barfi and halwa sweets are made of condensed buffalo milk (khoya) from Ponta village in India. Also, enjoy some samosas (filled pastries), puries (unleavened deep-fried bread served with curry), and paneer dishes (fresh cheese). Special drinks such as mango lassi (a yogurt drink) and aromatic chai (tea) are popular at Standard Sweets and Spices.

Standard Sweets and Spices, 18600 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA, USA, +1 562 809 5009

Meena Jewelers

Browse and appreciate some resplendent finery in Meena Jewelers, an elegant shop in the heart of Little India. There are dazzling handmade gold and diamond necklaces, chains, pendants, rings, earrings, and bracelets. Most of the jewelry is from India and is 22K gold. Traditionally, Asian families purchase jewelry for wedding adornment and as a life-long investment for their loved ones, and the financial benefit is always related to the value of gold at a particular time.

Meena Jewelers, 18501 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA, USA, +1 562 860 8161

Bombay Spices

Bombay Spices was opened in 1984 by a Punjabi (Sikh) entrepreneur, Surjit K. Batr. Forced to leave Uganda because of Idi Amin’s expulsion of Asians, she came to America via England. Later her husband, Bhupinder Singh Batr, arrived and they worked together. Bhupinder provided and tied turbans for Disney, and now his daughter-in-law, Jasvir Batr goes to India and brings back bangles (metal bracelets), hand-made wall hangings, wedding turbans, table runners, garlands, spices, and many cultural items. The family members welcome questions about religious figurines, the uses of the puja prayer plates, burning vessels, and offerings to the gods for puja worship.

Bombay Spices, 18626 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA, USA, +1 562 860 9949

Sona Chaandi Plaza

Sona Chaandi Plaza is often a central gathering place for special city events and business promotions, and celebrities sometimes visit or shop there. Inside is a rainbow of sequenced and jewel-studded fabrics with beautiful garments for women and children such as saris (long wraparound fabric), cholis (tops), lehngas (bottoms), anarkalis (tops and long skirts), kurtas (long shirts), and Punjabi suits (salwar kameez). Women can sit regally in a salon and have their eyebrows, upper lips, foreheads, and chins threaded; this is hair removal with thread. Also, exquisite henna (mehndi) designs can be temporarily tattooed on hands and arms as a beauty enhancer.

Sona Chaandi Plaza, 18307 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA, USA, +1 562 402 0030

Pioneer Cash and Carry, Surati Cash and Carry, and Ambala Cash and Carry

Time for grocery shopping? Pick up one of the many varieties of basmati rice, canned pickles, gram flour snacks, dal (lentils), masala chai (spicy tea), spice powders, sweet chutneys or rice flour. Or how about herbal hair oil, medicinal herbs, ointments, teas, or henna powder? The Pioneer Cash and Carry has grocery carts and many frozen food cases. Alternatively, the Surati Cash and Carry and Ambala Cash and Carry establishments are a little more traditional – with the pungent aromas of spices wafting through the grocery store. Miscellaneous Indian wares, toys, and religious figurines are abundantly stacked up like the traditional bustling market places of India itself.

Rasbhog Vegetarian Buffet and Udupi Palace

Try the amazing pani puri – potato and garbanzo beans and water encased in a spherical deep fried case. It must be swallowed in one bite! ‘Pani’ means water and ‘puri’ means fried bread. The Rasbhog vegetarian buffet is run by a Punjabi (Sikh) family. Savor and sample some tasty vegetarian dishes such as vegetable biryani (saffron spicy rice), pakoras (deep fried battered vegetable), gobi matter ( cooked spicy cauliflower), karela (bitter melon), chana masala (curried garbanzo beans), tori (cabbage), and saag (puréed spinach and mustard greens). At the Udapi Palace, indulge and try a South Indian vegetarian thali – a large round plate with mini bowls of rice, vegetable curry, pickles, yogurt, dal (lentils) and roti (wholemeal flat bread) and papadum (a wafer-thin spicy cracker).

Rasbhog, 18511 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA, USA, +1 562 924 1672

Udupi Palace, 18635 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA, USA, +1 562 860 1950

Thali | © innacoz/Flickr

Thali | © innacoz/Flickr

Bollywood Music and Gift Shop

Listen for Bollywood hit songs being blasted out the door of a tiny shop in the middle of a strip mall, and bravely step inside. Be whisked away to India. Gaze at the myriad of: carrom game boards, musical instruments (tabla drums, harmoniums, sitars, and flutes), bindhis (forehead decorations), incense sticks, Indian slippers, and jewelry. There might be discount music CDs for 99 cents or DVDs of Indian films. Hear the local customers asking to rent the latest Shah Rukh Khan film or requesting packages of colored powder to throw at each other during the Holi festival.

Bollywood Music & Video, 18421 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA, USA, +1 562 402 1969

Swaminarayan Temple and Sanatan Dharma Temple

Drive about two miles north of Little India on Pioneer Boulevard to the city of Norwalk, and on the left side there are two Hindu temples – Shree Swaminarayan Temple and Sanatan Dharma Temple. Ask questions about the world’s oldest religion or possibly see statues of Hindu gods, and observe how offerings, prayers, and rituals are performed. Some Hindu statues of revered goddesses and gods inside the temples are: Ganesha (the good luck elephant-headed god), Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth), Rhada Krishna (the embodiment of love), and Shiva (for strength and meditation). It is customary to remove footwear before entering.